A brief History of Marbling


The origins of paper marblin
g are obscure but paper was marbled in Japan at least as early as the twelfth century. Marbling had spread to Persia by the fifteenth century. These first Persian marbles had a fine comb pattern very similar to the present day non-pareil design. Marbling then spread to Turkey, and from Turkey it entered Europe, and imported marbled paper was in use in Holland at the end of the sixteenth century. It was being manufactured in Western Europe by about 1630. 

There is evidence for the use of marbled endpapers in books in 1655 and marbled paper was in common use in England twenty years later. It is thought that the manufacture of marbled papers was almost exclusively a French and German preserve until the middle decades of the eighteenth century. These two countries remained predominant in Western Europe until the mid-nineteenth century. Dutch merchants imported a wide range of goods from Germany for re-export, including marbled papers, the patterns of which are still known as Dutch.  These Dutch papers were exported to Britain and heavily used for more than one hundred years until the end of the eighteenth century.

Another popular early pattern introduced around 1660 was the French curl or snail pattern. This was used in Britain until the end of the nineteenth century. Marbling began to develop slowly in Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century. In contrast with the varieties of the Dutch pattern which had been very popular previously, the new marbles were uncombed or lightly combed and the colours in some, like antique spot, were brighter and more pleasing. Other popular patterns at this time included French Shell, Stormont and Gloster. These patterns lost popularity about 1840 and were followed by non-pareil and Spanish.  Non-pareil patterns remained popular throughout the Victorian period. Variations of this pattern which were also popular at the time included Bouquet and Peacock. Other marbled papers used mostly during the second half of the nineteenth century were Italian, Westend and Turkish or Stone.

Since 1982 Payhembury Marbled Papers has specialised in trying to reproduce some of these old patterns in the traditional manner, floating water-based paints on a size made from carragheen moss. Traditional papers were often highly polished with beeswax and an application of 50% beeswax/50% white spirit on the papers before use is recommended. This enhances the colour as well making them more durable.